Background Notes: Bangladesh

PA/PC Source: Office of Public Communication, Bureau of Public Affairs Date: Oct 15, 199010/15/90 Category: Country Data Region: South Asia Country: Bangladesh Subject: Cultural Exchange, Resource Management, Military Affairs, History, International Organizations, Trade/Economics [TEXT] Official Name: People's Republic of Bangladesh


Area: 143,998 sq. km. (55,813 sq. mi., about the size of Wisconsin). Cities: Capital-Dhaka (pop. 5 million). Other cities-Chittagong (1.8 million), Khulna (1.2 million), Rajshahi (700,000). Terrain: Mainly flat alluvial plain, with hills in the north. Climate: Semitropical, monsoon.
Nationality: Noun and adjective-Bangladeshi(s). Population (1990): 112 million. Annual growth rate: 2.4%. Ethnic groups: Bengali 98%, tribals, non-Bengali Muslims. Religions: Muslim 85%; Hindu 14%; Christian, Buddhist, others 1%. Languages: Bangla (official, also known as Bengali), English. Education (1985): Attendance-60% (primary school), 20% (secondary school). Literacy-29% for males; 18% for females. Health: Infant mortality rate (1987)-11.3%. Life expectancy-55 yrs. Work force (1987-88, 33.3 million). Agriculture-59%. Industry-11%. Services-30%.
Type: Presidential/parliamentary. Independence (in present form): 1971. Constitution: 1972 (as amended). Branches: Executive-president, elected by popular vote; (future vice presidents also will be elected by popular vote according to recent constitutional amendment) prime minister appointed by president. Legislative-unicameral parliament (300 members). Judicial-civil court system on British model. Administrative subdivisions: Divisions, districts subdistricts, unions, upazilas, villages. Political parties: 30-40 active political parties; 4 represented in current parliament. Suffrage: Universal over 18. Flag: Red circle on dark green field.
GDP (Bangladesh FY 1988-89): $20.2 billion. Real annual growth rate (1988-89): 2.3%. Per capita GDP (BFY 1988-89): $180. Natural resources: Natural gas, inexpensive labor. Agriculture (43% of BFY 1988-89 GDP): Products-rice, jute, tea, sugar, wheat. Land-cultivable area cropped at rate of 153%; largely subsistence farming heavily dependent on monsoonal rainfall. Industry* (14% of BFY 1988-89 GDP): Types-jute goods, garments, frozen shrimp and frog legs, textiles, fertilizer, sugar, tea, leather, metal reprocessing, pharmaceuticals, newsprint. Trade: Merchandise exports (BFY 1988-89)-$1.23 billion: ready-made garments, jute goods, leather, frozen fish, shrimp, raw jute, tea. Exports to US (1988)-$325 million. Merchandise imports (BFY 1988-89)-$3.37 billion: capital goods, foodgrains, petroleum, consumer goods, fertilizer, chemicals, vegetable oils, textiles. Imports from US (1988)-$325 million. Net private transfers (BFY 1988-89)-$836 million (est.), primarily from Bangladeshi workers in the Middle East. Fiscal year: July 1 through June 30. Official exchange rate: Taka 35= US$1. Membership in International Organizations UN and many of its specialized related agencies, including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), International Labor Organization (ILO), Universal Postal Union (UPU), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), International Development Association (IDA), World Health Organization (WHO); Asian Development Bank (ADB), Afro-Asia Peoples Solidarity Organization; Colombo Plan; Commonwealth; ESCAP, Group of 77; International Jute Organization (IJO), INTELSAT; Nonaligned Movement (NAM); Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC); South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).


Bangladesh is a low-lying, riverine country located in South Asia with a marshy jungle coastline of 600 kilometers (370 mi.) on the northern littoral of the Bay of Bengal. Formed by a deltaic plain at the confluence of the Ganges (Padma), Brahmaputra (Jamuna), and Meghna Rivers, as well as their tributaries, Bangladesh's alluvial soil is extremely fertile but vulnerable to flood and drought. The land is devoted largely to rice and jute cultivation, although other crops such as wheat and tea are becoming increasingly important. Hills rise above the plain only in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in the extreme southeast and the Sylhet District in the northeast. Bordered on three sides by India, and on the east by about 193 kilometers (120 mi.) of Burma, Bangladesh's irregular border, some 2,400 kilometers long, is not based on any natural feature. Instead, it represents a demarcation according to the political and communal considerations of the 1947 partition of British India. Located on the Tropic of Cancer, Bangladesh has a semitropical monsoonal climate, with one of the world's highest annual rainfalls, averaging as much as 215 centimeters (85 in.) in the northeast. The average temperature is 29 C (84 F), with some mild seasonal variation. East-west travel is impeded by river courses, and since much of the country is partially submerged or subject to flooding during the rainy season, travel can be difficult, often requiring boats.


Bangladesh, or "Bengal Nation," is the most densely populated agricultural country in the world. With a per capita gross domestic product of $180 (1987-88), it also is one of the poorest. Bangladesh's 112 million people are concentrated in an area about the size of Wisconsin. Its population growth rate currently is estimated at 2.4% annually; a conservative estimate projects a population of 141 million by the year 2000. At present, 40% of the population is under 15 years of age. Although urbanization is proceeding rapidly, some 85% of the people still live in rural areas, and most are farmers. Estimates show that only 30% of the population entering the labor force in the future will be absorbed into agriculture, although many will likely find other kinds of work in rural areas. The areas around the capital city, Dhaka, and around Comilla are the most densely settled. The Sundarbans, an area of thick tropical jungle inland from the coastline on the Bay of Bengal, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts on the southeastern border with Burma and India are the least densely populated. Residents of Bangladesh, about 98% of whom are ethnic Bengali and speak Bangla, are called Bangladeshis. Urdu-speaking, non-Bengali Muslims of Indian origin- Assamese, those often referred to as "Biharis", (or stranded Pakistanis) and various tribal groups, mostly in the Chittagong Hill Tract, comprise the remainder. Most Bangladeshis (about 85%) are Muslims, but Hindus constitute a sizable (14%) minority, including those who work on tea estates. There also are a small number of Buddhists, Christians, and animists. English is spoken in urban areas and among the educated.


The area that now is Bangladesh has a rich historical and cultural past, the product of the repeated influx of varied peoples, bringing with them the Dravidian, Indo-Aryan, Mongol/Mughul Arab, Persian, Turkic, and West European cultures. About A.D. 1200, Muslim invaders, under Sufi influence, supplanted previously existing Hindu and Buddhist dynasties, resulting in the conversion of most of the population of the eastern areas of Bengal to Islam and leaving a strong Muslim minority in the areas of Bengal that currently are part of India. Since then, Islam has played a crucial role in the region's history and politics. In the 16th century, Bengal was absorbed into the Mughul Empire, and Dhaka, the seat of a Nawab, or the representative of the emperor, gained some importance as a provincial center. Bengal, however, especially the section east of the Brahmaputra, remained a remote, difficult-to-govern region, outside the mainstream of Mughul politics. Portuguese traders and missionaries were the first Europeans to reach Bengal, in the latter part of the 15th century. They were followed by representatives of the Dutch, the French, and the British East India Companies. By the end of the 17th century, the British presence was centered on the trading "factories" along the Hooghly River in Calcutta, but during the 18th and 19th centuries, especially after the defeat of the French in 1757, the British gradually extended commercial contacts and administrative control beyond Calcutta, into the remainder of Bengal and northwesterly up the Ganges River valley. In 1859, the British Crown replaced the East India Company, and the British raj, still centered in the Writers Building in Calcutta, extended all the way to the Indus River in the west. The late 19th century witnessed the rise of the nationalist movement throughout British India, but this quickly gave birth to mounting antagonisms between the vast Hindu and Muslim communities, as each community gained confidence and sought a solution to its nationalist aspirations most compatible with its own vision of the future. In 1885, the All-India National Congress was founded with mixed Indian and British membership, but by 1906, Muslims sought an organization of their own not dominated by the Hindu majority, founding the All-India Muslim League in Dhaka. In 1909, at league urging, the British authorities provided for separate electorates for the Hindu and Muslim communities throughout British India. This period also saw the short-lived division of Bengal into eastern and western sectors, a move welcomed by many Muslims but opposed by many in the Hindu community. This dispute and the 1911 reintegration of Bengal contributed greatly to Bengali and Muslim political awareness. The subsequent history of the nationalist movement was characterized by periods of Hindu-Muslim cooperation as well as communal antagonism and bloodshed, but communal tensions hardened in the post-World War I period, following the introduction of provincial-style governments under the Government of India Act of 1919 and the adoption by the congress of its demand for self- government in 1929. By the late 1930s the congress and the League had become strong opposing political forces, even more so after the abortive elections of 1937, which underscored to the Muslims that self-government in a post-British India would relegate most Muslims to Hindu domination. Philosophically, this led to the development of the so-called "two-nation" theory, which held that the Muslims of the subcontinent constituted another "nation" and must have a homeland separate from that of the Hindus. The formal political embodiment of this theory took place in Lahore in 1940 when the All-India Muslim League passed a resolution declaring that "the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in the majority, as in the northwestern and eastern zones of India, should be grouped to constitute independent states' in which the constituent units should be autonomous and sovereign." The Muslin League, campaigning on a Pakistan platform, won the majority of the Muslim seats contested in Bengal in the 1946 provincial elections. Widespread communal violence followed, especially in Calcutta, and when British India was partitioned and the independent dominions of India and Pakistan were created in 1947, Bengal was again divided. East Pakistan was carved from the preponderantly Muslim east Bengal and the Sylhet District of Assam, while predominantly Hindu western Bengal became the Indian state of West Bengal. Extensive demographic and economic dislocation followed.
Movement for Autonomy
Almost from the advent of independent Pakistan in 1947, frictions developed between its two halves, east and west Pakistan, which were separated by more than 1,600 kilometers (1,000 mi.) of India territory. The economic dislocation brought on by partition accentuated economic grievances-real and apparent-and over time these became a major cause of dissatisfaction in East Pakistan, whose citizens felt exploited by the West Pakistan-dominated central government in Karachi. East Pakistan was poorer than West Pakistan, and a slower rate of economic development increased the gap. Many East Pakistanis felt they had merely shifted colonial rulers, contributing their jute earnings-Pakistan's primary hard- currency earner-to the national exchequer but receiving little in return. Government policies favored the west wing; the concentration of the elite of the Pakistan Movement in West Pakistan and the west wing's burgeoning economic opportunities, moreover, focused the bulk of investment there. Linguistic, cultural, and ethnic differences also were important in the estrangement of East from West Pakistan. Bengalis strongly resisted attempts to impose Urdu as the sole official language of Pakistan. (Urdu, the language of Muslims of the Gangetic heartland, was brought to West Pakistan by the leaders of the Pakistan movement when they migrated from India after partition in 1947; Urdu was not native to any region in what became Pakistan.) Pro-Bengali sentiment, supported by a rich cultural and literary heritage in Bengali and fanned into violence in pro- Bengali/anti-Urdu demonstrations by university students in 1952, played a key role in the growth of a new Bengali nationalism and ensured Bengali co-equal status with Urdu as an official language of the united country. The failure of constitutional rule in East Pakistan in 1954, the subsequent impositions of presidential rule there and later of martial law in both wings, coupled with the subsequent decision to transform the West Pakistan polity into one province-i.e., "one unit," so as to balance out East Pakistan's provincial plurality (and latent majority), added a political dimension to the growing sense of estrangement in the east and of impatience in the west. Even with national political leadership shared between East and West Pakistanis, disparities between the two wings' shares of representation in the military and civil services also caused growing resentment and gave further impetus in the east to the movement for provincial autonomy. As early as 1949, this movement was reflected politically by the formation of the Awami League, a party designed mainly to promote Bengali interests. After Gen. Ayub Khan took control of the country in 1958, resentment grew, as the nation's political leadership increasingly became dominated not by the Urdu-speaking "muhajirs," who had led the Pakistan movement and migrated to West Pakistan from India, but rather by those who were Punjabi speakers and called West Pakistan their traditional home. In 1966, the president of the Awami League, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was known widely as "Mujib" and had emerged as leader of the autonomy movement, was arrested for his political activities. His six-point program providing for political and economic autonomy for East Pakistan gained wide appeal in the east but was rejected by most elements of West Pakistani opinion. However, Bengali opinion coalesced around Mujib and his program in the campaign against the policies of Ayub Khan's central government. As the campaign grew, violence mounted in East Pakistan, and in 1969, faced with student unrest in West Pakistan as well, Ayub Khan stepped down after 11 years in office. He was replaced by Gen. Yahya Khan, former commander of East Pakistan's military garrison, who vowed to return the nation to democratic civilian rule and to draft a new constitution granting considerable autonomy to both the east and west wings. In the 1970-71 elections, Mujib's Awami League won more than 70% of the Bengali popular vote and 167 of 169 seats allotted to East Pakistan in the proposed 313-seat National Assembly, which would sit alternately in the east and west wings. It also won 288 of 300 seats in the planned East Pakistan Assembly. The unexpectedly strong showing of the Awami League jolted the national leadership and was followed by negotiations among political leaders in East and West Pakistan. However, the talks were unable to bridge differences over fundamental constitutional questions relating to the division of power between the central government and the provinces, and on March 1, 1971, Yahya Khan indefinitely postponed the pending National Assembly session. This precipitated massive civil disobedience in East Pakistan, and when efforts at negotiation failed anew, the army was called out to suppress Bengali dissidence by force. Mujib was again arrested in March; his party was banned, and most of his aides fled to India, where they organized a provisional government. On March 26, 1971, following the Pakistan army crackdown, Bengali nationalist declared an independent People's Republic of Bangladesh. As open fighting grew between the army and the Bengali Mukti Bahini (freedom fighters), an estimated 10 million Bengalis, mainly Hindus, sought refuge in the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal; within East Pakistan itself, countless thousands more were displaced. The evolving crisis in East Pakistan, moreover, produced new strains in Pakistan's troubled relations with India. The two nations had fought a war in 1965, concentrated mainly in the west, but the refugee pressure in India in the fall of 1971 produced new tensions in the east, with Indian sympathies on the side of East Pakistan. Despite appeals from third parties for restraint, open hostilities erupted between Pakistani and Indian forces in November, and India intervened on the side of the Bangladeshis. The battle was over in less than a month, when, on December 16, 1971, Pakistani forces surrendered and the new nation of Bangladesh was born.


The provisional government of the new nation was formed in Dhaka, and when Mujib was released from detention in Pakistan in early January 1972, it was reconstituted with Justice Abu Sayeed Choudhury as president and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as prime minister. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Mujib came to office with immense personal popularity but had difficulty quickly transforming this popular support into the political strength necessary to function effectively as head of government. The new constitution, which came into force in December 1972, created a strong executive prime ministership, an independent judiciary, and a unicameral legislature on a modified Westminster model; more importantly, it enunciated as state policy the Awami League's four basic principles-nationalism, secularism, socialism, and democracy. Parliamentary elections under the new constitution were first held in March 1973, with the Awami League winning a massive majority. The League continued as a mass movement, espousing the cause that brought Bangladesh into being and representing disparate and often incoherent elements under the banner of Bangla nationalism. No other political party in Bangladesh's early years was able to duplicate or challenge its broad-based appeal, membership, or organizational strength. Relying heavily on experienced civil servants and members of the Awami League, the new Bangladesh Government focused on relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction of the country's war- ravaged economy and society. Economic conditions remained tenuous, however, and food and health difficulties continued to be endemic. In December 1974, Mujib determined that continuing economic deterioration and mounting civil disorder required strong measures; he proclaimed a state of emergency and, a month later, used his parliamentary majority to amend the constitution to limit the powers of the legislative and judicial branches, to establish an executive presidency, and to institute a one-party system. Calling these changes the "Second Revolution," Mujib assumed the presidency, and all political parties were dissolved except a single new party, the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BAKSAL), which all members of parliament were obliged to join. Despite some improvement in the economic situation during the first half of 1975, implementation of promised political reforms was slow, and criticism of government policies became increasingly centered on Mujib. In August 1975, Mujib was assassinated by mid-level army officers, and a new government, headed by former Mujib associate Khandakar Moshtaque, was formed. Successive military coups occurred on November 3 and 7, resulting in the emergence of Gen. Ziaur Rahman, Chief of Army Staff, as strongman. He pledged the army's support to the civilian government headed by the president, Chief Justice Sayem. Acting at Zia's behest, Sayem then promulgated martial law, naming himself Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA), instituting a council of advisers to replace of the cabinet, dissolving parliament, and promising new elections in 1977.
Ziaur Rahman Acting behind the scenes of the Martial Law Administration, (MLA)
Ziaur Rahman sought to invigorate government policy and administration. While continuing the ban on political parties, he sought to revitalize the demoralized bureaucracy, to begin new economic development programs, and to emphasize family planning. In July 1976, the MLA permitted the reorganization of political parties under strict government guidance, but before active campaigning for the parliamentary elections scheduled for February 1977 could begin, elections were again postponed, purportedly because of border troubles with India and the proliferation of political parties. In November 1976, Zia assumed the post of CMLA, and in April 1977 he further consolidated his authority by assuming the presidency upon the retirement of President Sayem. He promised national elections by December 1978. As president, Zia announced a 19-point program of economic reform, which subsequently received an overwhelmingly favorable vote in a nationwide referendum. Later that year, he began dismantling the MLA and, in early 1978, met with various political leaders to form a broad-based political front. In the June presidential elections, Zia was supported by a coalition of centrist parties, with some support on the left as well. His main opponent, retired Gen. Osmani, a former cabinet member and commander of the Mukti Bahini in 1971, drew support from a rival political front consisting of the Awami League and several small leftist parties. Benefiting from his reputation for vigorous leadership and from public satisfaction with domestic stability and stable food prices, Zia won a 5-year term in the June 1978 elections with 76% of the vote. In November 1978, his government removed the remaining restrictions on political parties activities and encouraged opposition parties to participate in the pending parliamentary elections. More than 30 parties vied in the parliamentary elections of February 1979, but only four won a significant number of seats. Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) won 207 of the 300 elected seats. This election marked the end of Zia's transformation of the MLA to a democratically elected, constitutional government. The constitution was again amended to provide for an executive prime minister appointed by the president and responsible to a parliamentary majority. The presidency retained considerable emergency powers and continued to head the cabinet but was no longer able to veto any bill passed by the parliament. The Zia period came to a sudden end in Chittagong in May 1981 when he was assassinated by dissident elements of the military. The attempted coup, which never spread beyond that city, failed, and the major conspirators were either taken into custody or killed. In accordance with the constitution, Vice President Justice Abdus Sattar was sworn in as acting president. He declared a new national emergency and called for election of a new president within 6 months. In those election, held in November, Justice Sattar, running as the BNP's candidate, was elected president, defeating Awami League contender Kamal Hossain and several others. President Sattar sought to follow the policies of his predecessor and retained essentially the same cabinet; his administration was ineffective, however, and the army resumed its former role as arbiter of the nation's fortunes. After considerable hesitation, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. H.M. Ershad, assumed power in a bloodless coup in March 1982. Hussain Mohammed Ershad Like his predecessors, Ershad dissolved parliament, declared martial law, assumed the position of CMLA, suspended the constitution, and banned political activity. As reasons for the army takeover, he cited pervasive corruption, ineffectual government, and economic mismanagement. Ershad reaffirmed Bangladesh's moderate, nonaligned foreign policy and said he aimed to cleanse the country of corruption, revitalize the economy through increased private sector activity, decentralize and streamline the bureaucracy, reform the legal system, and lay the foundation for a return to democratic institutions. In December 1983, Ershad assumed the presidency, while retaining his positions as army chief and CMLA. During most of 1984, Ershad sought the opposition parties' agreement to participate in a series of local elections leading up to national polls. Because the opposition refused to participate in any election while martial law remained in place, Ershad set aside previously announced elections plans. Throughout the period, there was an ebb and flow in the application of martial law regulations, as Ershad sought a formula for elections while dealing with potential threats to public order. Unwilling to relax martial law until a new constitutional system would be in place, Ershad attempted to move the electoral process forward by seeking public support for his regime in a national referendum on his leadership on March 21, 1985. He won overwhelmingly, although the turnout was small. Two months later, Ershad persevered in the face of opposition to hold elections for upazila (country-like administrative units) council chairmen. Progovernment candidates won a majority of the posts, setting in motion the president's ambitious decentralization program. Political life was further liberalized in late 1985 as Ershad pursued his plan to hold national elections; and on January 1, 1986, full political rights, including the right to hold large public rallies, were restored. At the same time, the Jatiyo (People's) Party, designed as Ershad's political vehicle for the transition from martial law, was established. New negotiations with opposition parties bore fruit when the Awami League-led by Sheikh Hasina Wajed, daughter of the slain Sheikh Mujibur Rahman-agreed to take part in parliamentary elections rescheduled for May. Although the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by President Zia's widow, Begum Khaleda Zia, declined to participate, the agreement by the AL and a number of other parties to campaign gave the process the credibility Ershad had long sought. Elections were held on schedule. The 300 elected seats of the National Assembly were filled, with the Jatiyo and its allies winning a modest majority and the opposition electing 122 members-the most in Bangladesh's history-despite widespread charges of voting irregularities, according to opposition leaders and the foreign press. The new National Assembly held a short session in July. The Awami League and its allies boycotted the session in protest against the alleged election irregularities and because martial law was still then in effect. Following by-elections in August, and in preparation for the scheduled presidential elections in October, Ershad resigned as Chief of Army Staff and retired from military service. Neither the BNP nor the AL put up an opposing candidate in the October election-again because of the continuation of martial law. Ershad easily outdistanced the remaining field of 11 candidates, taking 84% of the vote. Controversy again dogged the event, with Ershad's government claiming a turnout of more than 50% and opposition leaders and much of the foreign press estimating a far lower percentage and alleging new irregularities. Ershad, however, continued his commitment to lift martial law. On November 10, 1986, with the support of 30 appointive seats reserved for women and a number of independents who joined his ruling party, his government mustered the necessary two-thirds majority in the National Assembly to amend the constitution and confirm the previous actions of the martial law regime. The amendment also held the leaders of that regime legally blameless for their actions. Later the same day, the president lifted martial law, after which the opposition parties took their elected seats in the National Assembly. In July 1987, however, after the government hastily pushed through a controversial legislative bill to include military representation on local administrative councils, the opposition walked out of parliament in protest. Passage of this bill helped spark an opposition movement that quickly gathered momentum and that united Bangladesh's opposition parties for the first time. The movement was aimed at forcing Ershad from office through popular demonstrations and widespread street agitation. In October 1987, the government began to arrest scores of opposition activists under the Special Powers Act of 1974 after opposition plans to paralyze the government with massive crowds became known. Despite these arrests, the opposition parties continued to organize protest marches, processions, rallies, and nationwide strikes. On November 27, 1987, Ershad declared a state of emergency. On December 6, he dissolved Parliament following the resignation of one opposition party and a vote by the Awami League Presidium to follow suit. Citing constitutional imperative, Ershad scheduled new parliamentary elections for March 3, 1988. All major opposition parties refused government overtures to participate in these elections and maintained that the government was incapable of holding free and fair elections. Throughout this politically tumultuous period, the most serious challenge to his leadership of Bangladesh since assuming power, Ershad steadfastly refused to accede to opposition demands that he resign. The military backed him, and its continued support was critical to Ershad's ability to withstand opposition pressures. Despite the opposition boycott, the government proceeded with the March 3 polls. The ruling Jatiyo Party won 251 of the 300 seats; three other political parties which did participate, as well as a number of independent candidates, shared the remaining seats. On April 25, 1988, shortly after Ershad lifted the state of emergency, Bangladesh's fourth parliament opened for its first session. In the face of its failure to unseat Ershad, the opposition's fragile unity showed increasing signs of strain. Political rivalries and suspicions, never far from the surface, came increasingly to the fore. In addition, the severity and unprecedented scope of the floods that struck Bangladesh in the fall of 1988 served to distract national attention away from political concerns. The floods probably effectively quelled any opposition hopes to revive the anti-Ershad movement during Bangladesh's traditional "political season", i.e., the dry winter months. The government's well- managed flood relief efforts and its ability to prevent mass starvation through its food security system earned it, at least short-term political benefits. By early 1989, although there were no signs of a government- opposition accommodation, the domestic political situation in the country had quietened considerably. The parliament, while still regarded by the opposition as an illegitimate body, held its sessions as scheduled and passed a large number of legislative bills, including, in June 1988, a controversial amendment making Islam Bangladesh's state religion. Upazila elections held in March 1990 were observed by domestic and international observers and generally considered to have been less violent and more free and fair than previous elections. Presidential elections are due between April and October 1991, and parliamentary elections are due before March 1993.
Principal Government Officials
President (head of state) and Defense Minister- Hussain Mohammad Ershad Vice President-Moudud Ahmed Prime Minister-Kazi Zafar Ahmed Foreign Minister-Anisul Islam Mahmud Chief Justice of the Supreme Court-Shahabuddin Ahmed Ambassador to the United States-A.H.S. Ataul Karim Ambassador to the United Nations-A.H.G. Mohiudin Bangladesh maintains an embassy in the United States at 2201 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20007 (tel. 202-342-8372) and a consulate general at the Bangladesh Mission to the United Nations, 821 UN Plaza, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-867-3434). ECONOMY As one of the world's poorest and most densely populated countries, Bangladesh must struggle constantly to produce domestically and import from abroad enough food to feed its rapidly increasing population. Its predominantly agricultural economy depends heavily on an erratic monsoonal cycle, which leads to periodic flooding and drought. Although improving, Bangladesh's transportation, communications, and power infrastructure is poorly developed. Except for an estimated 17 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves (which meets two-thirds of Bangladesh's commercial energy needs), coal reserves estimated at 250 million metric tons in the northwest, and the possibility of oil reserves, Bangladesh has virtually no mineral resources. Its industrial base is weak, but unskilled labor is inexpensive and plentiful. Following the climactic events of 1971, Bangladesh, with the help of massive infusions of donor relief and development aid, slowly began to turn its attention again to developing new industrial capacity and rehabilitating its economy. The statist economic model adopted by its early (Pakistani and Bangladeshi) leadership, however, including the nationalization of the key jute industry, had resulted in inefficiency and economic stagnation. Beginning in 1975, the government gradually gave greater scope to private sector participation in the economy, a pattern that has continued. Included was the privatization of 32 state enterprises. Rapid population growth, inefficiency in the public sector, and restricted natural resources and capital, however, have continued to dampen the economy. Nonetheless, in the mid-1980s there were encouraging, if halting, signs of progress. Economic policies aimed at encouraging private enterprise and investment, denationalizing public industries (including jute, textiles, and banking), reinstating budgetary discipline, and liberalizing the import regime were accelerated. In 1985, the government also began a economic structural adjustment program with the International Monetary Fund. Currently, 650 public sector enterprises have been denationalized, and only 40% of all industrial assets is still publicly owned. Macroeconomic indicators began to respond positively; in the last several years, real growth in gross domestic product has been consistently more than 3.5% (except for years of severe flooding); export oriented industries (garments, shrimp,) developed in the private sector have become impressive success stories; agricultural and industrial production has risen. Larger donors, led by the World Bank, have supported the government's policies to encourage these trends.
Most Bangladeshis earn their living directly or indirectly from agriculture. Rice and jute are the primary crops, wheat is assuming greater importance, and tea is grown in hilly regions of the northeast. Because of Bangladesh's fertile soil and normally ample water supply, rice can be grown and harvested three times a year in many areas. Through better flood control and irrigation measures, more intensive use of fertilizers and high- yielding seed varieties, increased price incentives, and improved distribution and rural credit networks, Bangladesh's labor-intensive agricultural sector has achieved a pattern of steady increases in foodgrain production, despite often unfavorable weather conditions. Foodgrain output reached a record level of (16.5) million tons in (1986), and almost that high again in 1987, despite a very serious flood. Production for 1988-89 is expected to be about the same despite another even more extensive flood. Even so, rice yields per hectare are among the lowest in Asia. Population pressure continues to put an immense burden on productive capacity, confronting the government with a small but seemingly chronic food deficit, especially of wheat, which must be overcome through foreign assistance and commercial imports. Slight variations in rainfall can mean the difference between severe shortage and relative sufficiency. Moreover, jute, which historically has accounted for the bulk of Bangladesh's export receipts, faces an uncertain future due to competition from synthetic substitutes. Fisheries, particularly shrimp, have become increasingly more important sources of export earnings. Underemployment remains a serious problem, and a growing concern for Bangladesh's agricultural sector will be its ability to absorb additional manpower. Finding alternative sources of employment is a continuing challenge, particularly for the increasing numbers of landless peasants who already account for about half the rural labor force. Industry Industrial development has been a priority for successive Bangladesh governments. Although small, the industrial sector contributes significantly to export receipts; it also provides employment and a market for cash crops. Jute products-mainly burlap sacking and carpet backing for export-and cotton textiles for domestic consumption predominate. Production of ready-made garments for export to the US market, begun in the early 1980's in response to the imposition of quotas on major East and Southeast Asian producers, has grown rapidly. Bangladesh is the fourth largest supplier of cotton apparel to the United States and has begun to diversify its garment exports away from the North American market to the West European market. Shipbreaking, using methods that are highly labor-intensive, has developed to the point where it now meets most of Bangladesh's domestic steel needs. Other industries include sugar, tea, leather goods, newsprint, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizer production, which uses Bangladesh's natural gas. The industrial (and foreign exchange) impact of the discovery of modest reserves of oil in late 1986 remains to be assessed; drilling has just recently begun. The Ershad government has sought to increase industrial growth by removing barriers to private sector participation in economic development, providing incentives to domestic and foreign private investors, and denationalizing public sector industrial units and banks. Key to this change in policy was the denationalization of about half of the public sector's jute looms, one-third of its cotton textile looms, a number of other industrial units, and several banks. In addition, several new private sector banks have been established. The government continues to court foreign investment assiduously. To this end, the United States and Bangladesh signed a bilateral investment treaty in March 1986 that took effect July 25, 1989. Bangladesh also has established an export processing zone (EPZ) in Chittagong and plans to create additional zones elsewhere in the country. The Bangladesh Government has initiated a new, more liberal overall investment policy, offering special incentives to potential investors. In January 1989, the government inaugurated a new Board of Investment to simplify approval and start up procedures for Foreign Investors.
Aid and Trade
Since independence in 1971, Bangladesh has received more that $22.5 billion in grant aid and loan commitments from foreign donors, about $15 billion of which has actually been disbursed. Major donors include the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the UN Development Program, the United States, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and a number of West European countries. Aid from communist countries is only about 4% of total aid pledged. As of 1990, the United States has provided more than $3.97 billion in food and development assistance to Bangladesh. Food aid under Titles I, II, and III of PL-480 (Food for Peace) has been designed to help Bangladesh meet minimum food requirements, promote food production, and moderate fluctuation in consumer prices. Other US development assistance emphasizes family planning and health, agricultural development, and rural employment. The United States works with other donors and the Bangladesh Government to avoid duplication and ensure that resources are used to maximum benefit. Bangladesh historically has run a large trade deficit, approximately $1.5 billion in the past several years. This has been financed largely through aid receipts. In fiscal year (FY) 1987-88, the amount remitted back to Bangladesh from expatriates working abroad, mainly in the Middle East, became Bangladesh's largest source of foreign exchange earnings for the first time. With the exception of 1988-89 when aircraft purchase made the trade balance even, the US trade balance with Bangladesh has been negative since 1986, due largely to mushrooming imports of ready-made garments. Jute carpet backing is the other major US import from Bangladesh. US exports to Bangladesh include wheat, fertilizer, cotton, rice, communications equipment, aircraft, and medical supplies, much of which is financed by the US Agency for International Development.


Bangladesh's 100,000-member army, composed of six light infantry divisions, is modeled and organized along British regimental lines- similar to other military forces on the subcontinent-and supported by artillery and armored regiments. In addition to defense, the army is an important backstop to civil authority. The bulk of the weaponry in use-including tanks, fixed-wing aircraft, and naval craft-originated in China. Officer training is conducted in Bangladesh, with some advanced training in other countries, including grant aid training in the United States. The senior officer corps is composed of Bengali officers from the pre-1971 Pakistan Army and of "freedom fighters" active in the struggle for independence from Pakistan. The army forces are supplemented by the Bangladesh Rifles, a lightly armed border security force led by army officers, but falling under the authority of the Interior Ministry. Bangladesh maintains a small air force with two fighter squadrons, one attack squadron, and transport aircraft and helicopters. The navy has four frigates, including a new Chinese- built guided missile frigate, about 10 coastal patrol boats, and several squadrons of torpedo and missile boats.


Bangladesh pursues a moderate, nonaligned foreign policy, similar to many former colonial areas of the Third World. This places heavy reliance on multinational diplomacy, especially at the United Nations. The government's initial post-independence foreign policy objectives have been realized: -- To secure recognition of the new state and government; -- To obtain membership in important international organizations; and -- To enlist international support for relief, rehabilitation, and economic development. Bangladesh was admitted to the United Nations in 1974 and was elected to the Security Council in 1978. Foreign Minister Choudhury served as president of the 41st UN General Assembly in fall 1986. Dhaka maintains an active round of participation in international conferences, especially those dealing with population, food, and development issues. In 1982-83, Bangladesh played a constructive role as chairman of the "Group of 77," an informal association encompassing most of the world's developing nations. In 1983, Dhaka hosted the foreign ministers meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Bangladesh has taken a leading role in the group of 42 least developed countries. Since 1975, Bangladesh has sought close relations with other Islamic states, taking a leading role among moderate members of the OIC. Dhaka also has sought friendly relations with the like- minded nations of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The government also pursued with vigor and skill the expansion of cooperation among the nations of South Asia, bringing the process-originally an initiative of former President Ziaur Rahman- through its earliest, most tentative stages to the formal inauguration of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) at a summit gathering of South Asian leaders in Dhaka in December 1985.
Relations With Neighbors and Other South Asian Nations India.
India is Bangladesh's most important neighbor; geographic, cultural, historic, and commercial ties are strong, and both countries recognize the importance of good relations. During and immediately after the Bangladesh independence struggle in 1971, India supported the East Bengali nationalists, assisted refugees from East Pakistan, intervened militarily to help bring about the independence of Bangladesh, and furnished relief and reconstruction aid. Indo-Bangladesh relations have not been without strains. The problem of record flooding in Bangladesh in 1987-88, a phenomenon popularly believed by many Bangladeshis to originate largely in India, has aggravated bilateral tensions. Other long-standing contentious issues also remain to be resolved. Of importance has been the equitable division of dry-season water on which both countries' economies depend, as well as equally equitable resolution of several thorny border demarcation issues. An earlier bilateral water-sharing agreement for the Ganges River lapsed in 1988 and has not been renewed. Both nations have, however, begun to cooperate on the issue of flood warning and flood preparedness. Discussions on the return to Bangladesh of tribal refugees who fled into India beginning in 1986 to escape violence caused by an insurgency in their homeland in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, continue as well. Pakistan. Bangladesh enjoys the warmest of relations with Pakistan, despite the inauspicious early days of their relationship. Landmarks in their reconciliation are: -- An August 1973 agreement between India and Pakistan on the repatriation of numerous individuals, including 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war stranded as a result of the 1971 conflict; -- A February 1974 accord by Dhaka and Islamabad on mutual recognition (followed more than 2 years later by establishment of formal diplomatic relations); -- The organization by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees of an airlift that moved almost a quarter of a million Bengalis from Pakistan to Bangladesh and non-Bengalis from Bangladesh to Pakistan; and -- Exchanges of high-level visits including a visit by Prime Minister Bhutto to Bangladesh in 1989. Still to be resolved are the division of assets from the pre- 1971 period and the status of more than 250,000 non-Bengali Muslims (know as "Biharis") or "Stranded Pakistanis" remaining in Bangladesh but seeking resettlement in Pakistan. Other South Asian Countries. Bangladesh maintains close friendly relations with Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, and strongly opposed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Dhaka played an instrumental role in the establishment of SAARC, and at the Bangalore summit in November 1986, a Bangladesh diplomat, Abul Ahsan, was chosen the organization's first Secretary General. Bilateral ties also are good with Burma, despite border strains near the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Relations With Communist Countries USSR
The Soviet Union supported India's actions during the 1971 Indo- Pakistan war, and Moscow was among the first to recognize Bangladesh. The USSR initially contributed considerable relief and rehabilitation aid to the new nation, especially assistance to clear the Port of Chittagong. After Sheikh Mujib was assassinated and replaced by military regimes, however, Soviet-Bangladesh relations cooled; today, they are correct and friendly. As of May 1989, the USSR ranked 14th among total aid donors to Bangladesh. The Soviets have focused on the development of electrical power, natural gas, and oil, and maintained active cultural relations with Bangladesh. A showcase project financed by the Soviets is the Ghorasal thermal power station, which if completed on schedule in 1995, will become Bangladesh's largest electric power station. In recent years, Bangladesh and the Soviet Union have concluded several barter trade agreements. China. China traditionally has been more important than the USSR to Bangladesh, even though China-as a loyal ally of Pakistan- had supported Pakistan in 1971 and provides only one-third the aid levels committed by the Soviet Union. But as Dhaka's relations with Moscow (and Delhi) cooled following 1975, and as Dhaka and Islamabad became reconciled, Beijing's relations with Dhaka grew warmer. An exchange of diplomatic missions in February 1976 followed an accord on recognition in late 1975. And since that time, relations have grown stronger, centering upon trade, cultural activities, military and civilian aid, and exchanges of high-level visits, beginning in January 1977 with President Zia's trip to Beijing. The largest and most visible symbol of bilateral amity is the Bangladesh-China "Friendship Bridge" completed in 1989, near Dhaka.


Although the US relationship with Bangladesh was initially troubled because of strong US ties with Pakistan, US-Bangladesh friendship and support developed quickly. Currently, US-Bangladesh relations are excellent, as demonstrated by the visits to Washington in August 1980 by President Zia and in 1983, 1988, and 1990 by President Ershad and the June 1986 visit to Bangladesh of US Ambassador to the UN Vernon Walters. US policies have focused primarily on efforts to promote Bangladesh's economic development and political progress. The centerpiece of the bilateral relationship is a large US economic aid program totaling about $135 million in 1989 (and which from 1971 through 1989 provided more than $3 billion in assistance). In addition to symbolizing longstanding American humanitarian concern for the people of Bangladesh, US economic and food aid programs, begun as emergency relief following the 1971 war, now concentrate on long- term development. These include increasing agricultural production, providing new employment opportunities, and helping to reduce population growth. The US Embassy and a USAID Mission are in Dhaka. Frequent official visitors to both capitals augment the work of their diplomats in fostering more cooperative economic, commercial, political, and cultural ties.
Principal US Officials
Ambassador-William B. Milam Deputy Chief of Mission-Lee O. Coldren Political Counselor-Stephen R. Snow Economic/Commercial Counselor-Michael McNaull Administrative Counselor-Kenneth Parent Consular Officer-Ruth Bright AID Director-Mary Kilgour Public Affairs Officer-Ray Peppers Defense Attache-LTC James A. Dunn Agricultural Attache-Daniel Conable (Resident in New Delhi) The Embassy and the USAID Mission, which moved in October 1988 from a downtown site, are now located in the Diplomatic Enclave, Madani Avenue, Baridhara, G.P.O. Box 323, Dhaka (tel. 011- 880-2-884700, telex 642319 AEDKA BJ, telefax 880-2-883648). The official workweek is Sunday through Thursday.


Customs and immigration: US citizens traveling as tourists do not need visas for stays of 14 days if they have an onward ticket. Visas are required for longer visits and for business travelers. Climate and clothing: Wear lightweight clothing for most of the hot, wet period; medium weight clothing for the short winter (Dec.-Feb.) Health: Health and visa requirements change; check latest information before traveling. Basic medical facilities are available in Dhaka. Pharmacies can fill simple prescriptions. Tetanus, typhoid, gamma globulin, and polio immunizations are recommended; malaria supressants for travel outside of Dhaka also are recommended. Telecommunications: Internal and external telephone, telegraph, telex, and mail services are available. Direct dialing is possible to Western Europe and the United States. Bangladesh is 11 hours ahead of eastern standard time. Transportation: International and domestic airline service is adequate; railroad service is limited; road transport is crowded but adequate to most major cities; river transport is extensive. National holidays: Martyrs' Day, February 21; Independence Day, March 26; Bengali New Year's Day, April 15; May Day, May 1; National Integrity Day, November 7; Victory Day, December 16; Christmas Day, December 25; Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Azha, Muharram, Eid-i-Milad- un-Nabi, and other religious holidays, varying in accordance with the lunar calendar.
Further Information
These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications. Ahmad, Nafis. A New Economic
of Bangladesh. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1976. Baxter, Craig. Bangladesh: A New Nation in an Old Setting. Boulder: Westview Press, 1984. Blanchet, Therese. Women, Pollution, and Marginality: Meaning and Rituals of Birth in Rural Bangladesh. Dhaka: University Press, 1984. Faaland, Just. Aid and Influence: The Case of Bangladesh. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1981. Franda, Marcus. Bangladesh: The First Decade. Hanover: Universities Field Service International, 1982. O'Donnell, Charles. Bangladesh: Biography of a Muslim Nation. Boulder: Westview Press, 1984. Sobhan, Rehman. From AID Dependence to Self-Reliance. Dhaka University Press, 1990. Webbergren, Boyd and Charles Antholt. Agricultural Development in Bangladesh: Prospects for the Future. Boulder: Westview Press, 1984. Available from the Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402: Department of the Army. Bangladesh: A Country Study, 1989. US Department of Commerce. Overseas Business Reports and Foreign Economic Trends. Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication -- Washington, DC -- October 1990 -- Editor: Juanita Adams Department of State Publication 8698 Background Notes Series -- This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission; citation of this source is appreciated. For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402. (###)